Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

‘Not a trade war’
The China–Australia relationship is deteriorating fast

Via Facebook

What a mess. China’s overnight support for a comprehensive review of the handling of COVID-19 – to be voted on tonight by the World Health Assembly – is some kind of vindication for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was the first to propose an independent investigation into the origins of the virus. Never mind that the Chinese embassy in Canberra said today that the draft Assembly resolution was totally different from Australia’s proposal, since it will be conducted by the World Health Organization, and never mind that it added in undiplomatic language that Australia’s claim to have been vindicated was “nothing but a joke”. Unfortunately, China seems to have retaliated against Australia with an 80 per cent tariff imposed on up to a billion dollars’ worth of barley imports for the next five years. Trade Minister Simon Birmingham this morning said he was “deeply, deeply disappointed” at China’s decision, and Australia would keep options open for redress, including the dispute resolution mechanisms under our free trade agreement or a possible challenge in the World Trade Organization.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said Australia “should be damn proud as a nation that we led the world, not only on understanding what the WHO has done, but understanding what wildlife wet markets’ role is in these pandemics”. There was no trade war with China, Littleproud said, but his Opposition counterpart, Joel Fitzgibbon, told Sky News that farmers were telling him, “This is retribution and a reflection of the deteriorating nature of our relationship with China, a relationship which has been in deterioration for at least three years now.” Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas squarely blamed [$] China’s imposition of an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley on “the way that the federal government have conducted themselves”.

Australia’s relationship with China is at a perilous juncture – the worst since the Tiananmen Square massacre, as The New Daily’s Michael Pascoe wrote on the weekend, or even since we first established diplomatic relations in 1973, according to former ambassador Geoff Raby. Former prime minister Tony Abbott, always keen on division and hate, is now campaigning [$] on behalf of hardline West Australian Liberal Andrew Hastie and his worrying group of anti-communist “Wolverines” from both sides of the political aisle in the federal parliament, who seem to be edging us towards an unthinkable war with China. Under President Trump, the US is an unreliable ally, writes SMH political and international editor Peter Hartcher this morning (citing last week’s wobbles over the F-35 fighter jet), which apparently loses in war games against China every time. 

Rising anti-China sentiment in the wake of the pandemic is fanning far-right paranoiacs such as adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, as Crikey’s David Hardaker reports [$], including the Morrisons’ family friend Tim Stewart, who tweets under the handle @BurnedSpy34 and whose wife works for the PM’s department. The QAnon conspiracists have lined up with Falun Gong, Hardaker reports, which distributes the pro-Morrison, anti-China, US-parented giveaway newspaper Epoch Times in suburbs throughout Australia.

Fears of China threaten to escape the fringes and turn mainstream. The latest Essential poll shows 39 per cent of Australians agree with the statement: “The COVID-19 virus was engineered and released from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan.” That is a mad conspiracy theory that has been propagated by the White House and Fox News – as distinct from the possibility that the virus accidentally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the nearby wet market, which is quite possible. While the research that occurs at WIV is said to be top-notch, according to Australian scientists, not all lab staff are thoroughly trained or well paid, and possible pathways for the virus include the sale of an infected bat to the wet market by an untrained, poorly paid technician looking to earn a bit extra on the side. 

The question raised is whether Morrison is a closet extremist, in lockstep with Trump, or a pragmatist with a steady hand on the tiller. It’s a very steady hand that’s called for right now.

“There [are] businesses moving revenue around and delaying invoices for a month to qualify for the whole six months … That’s not Australian, that’s not fair and it’s soaking up the funding so the people who really need it are going to get hurt.”

Grant Wilson, from macro advisory and data analytics firm Exante Data, says accountants are contriving ways to qualify for the JobKeeper scheme.

“I will not put Queenslanders’ health at risk, full stop. I apologise to the people of NSW and Victoria, we would love to have you to Queensland, but not at this stage.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says Queensland will not open up its borders to travellers from NSW and Victoria until they record two incubation cycles – four weeks – of zero cases, despite the fact that the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has never recommended closing state borders.

How COVID-19 united conspiracy theorists
Conspiracy theorists have been energised by COVID-19, with misinformation on everything from 5G to vaccinations spreading online and featuring in real-world protests. Today, Rick Morton on where these theories really begin and the groups actively encouraging them.


The proportion of cleaners who say they do not have enough cleaning equipment to do a quality job, according to a survey by the United Workers Union that also found 74 per cent do not have enough PPE to do their job safely.

“The government agrees with the concept of pilot methods to expedite new method development and enable the ERF to achieve a greater range of low-cost abatement. The government also notes that pilot method programs may facilitate the faster adoption of new technologies. The government will work with stakeholders to establish a regulatory sandbox to inform method development through pilot projects.”

From Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor’s response to the recommendations of the expert panel examining additional sources of low-cost abatement, led by former chief executive of Origin Energy Grant King.

The list

“The language of Fathoms has a remarkable, almost gothic intensity. The style is vivid and estranging and luridly compelling, full of weird lights and unexpected textures. Giggs fondles new and exotic words as if they were precious fossils. She lingers over morbid images and melancholy juxtapositions, and her lyrical fascination with dead and dying whales seems to express an unappeased longing for catastrophe.”

“The formidable Shira Haas (Shtisel, The Zookeeper’s Wife) is lucent in the role of ingenue Esty. Her small frame simultaneously holds strength and fragility. She is able to emote multitudinous shifts of feeling in the most subtle of ways. There is never a point we wish the camera would stop lingering over her face.”

“From the outside it could look as if the medical profession is feeling around in the dark. In terms of understanding, COVID-19 has quickly gone from an unusual pneumonia, to a new respiratory condition causing a flu-like illness with fever and cough, to a disease being linked to all kinds of specific but rare complications. So, what is true and what isn’t? How does medicine keep up when the goalposts are constantly moving? And, is COVID-19 particularly mysterious, or are we mistaken in our expectations of where we should be at this stage of investigating a novel virus?”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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